Mail This: Treat the Disease, Not the Symptom

Dear “Jake,”

My wife gets one of those magazines with 300 Fashion Tips! and a monthly “The [insert random number] Secrets to Bedroom Fireworks!” article. I don’t make it a habit to read it because, you know, I’m a dude. Last month, though, I was cooking dinner for the two of us and she read the following to me about “What a guy’s place says about him:

If: He’s got a PS3 and an Xbox and a Wii…
Maybe he’s just: A gamer who likes to relax after work with a beer and Halo 3.
But it could mean: He’s not looking for anything real.

“Generally speaking,” says Douglas Weiss, president of the American Association for Sex Addiction Therapy, “if a man spends disproportionate time on video games, he probably isn’t a master of real relationships.” How much is too much? Whatever amount makes you feel neglected, Weiss says. Try coaxing your guy away from his Madden NFL and propose other activities. Say, “In half an hour, can we go grab lunch?” If he says no, or can’t tear himself away when the time is up, get your own sandwich, and possibly a new boyfriend.


This is not a conversation that you want to have, mainly because you won’t win.

To be fair to my wife, she read this in a deadpan tone of voice, probably because the fact that I play video games has never, ever been a strain on our relationship. Why? Because I play them with a sense of balance towards the rest of my life. She needs help carrying in groceries when I’m in the middle of a firefight on Pandora? Guess what? The controller has a pause button. And if I’m online? Sorry guys, you’re going to have to finish this round without me. Why? Because: A) I love my wife and enjoy making her happy; B) The games will be there later; and C) Seriously? I need a third reason? You’re the relationship experts, you should know that A) is plenty of reason.

Video Games aren’t the Problem

Unlike the plethora of “relationship experts” out there who aren’t licensed therapists or mediators, I imagine Dr. Weiss probably knows a little bit about addiction. Most of my understanding of the disease comes from things like Wired Science and 60 Minutes, so we’ll give Dr. Weiss the win in the “I know what I’m talking about” category. Still, I’m going to press on here. Although the neurochemistry seems to act in the same manner as in gambling addictions and similarly to chemical addiction, since it reinforces certain pathways in the brain that provide pleasure when you’re doing it and withdrawal when you’re not, actual video game addiction isn’t the problem most of the time and it’s disingenuous to say (or, frankly, imply that video games = crack.)

To be fair, when I first heard my wife read this to me, I kind of chuckled (because she’s funny) and then I started to get incensed at this bullshit advice column that implicitly links playing too many video games with an addictive behavior. Then, the more reading I did, I stopped being mad at Dr. Weiss, because he’s talking about a real and measurable neurological phenomenon and gave a pretty decent tactic in response to a person playing video games at the detriment of their relationship.

What really got me going, though, is that link that’s posited – If A, Then B. Just so we’re clear on this and I’m not accused of only “implying” something: If your significant other is playing too many video games, then addiction is the problem. That is a false representation and shame on you for leading your readers down that path. I know people who have had “too many video games” by one party be a huge problem in their relationship…and it wasn’t addictive behavior to blame. It was selfish asshattery on the gamer’s part. I’m absolutely positive that there are people who are actually addicted to video games as well as social networking, porn, and silly cat pictures…but they’re in the minority. Telling your readers that a disease is the problem is not only giving them crappy advice that can either convince them to stick around in a bad relationship or head for the hills without actual communication, it also continues in this attempt to demonize video games (in a way that reminds me of: skateboarding, comic books and rock and roll) and that gets me pretty riled up.

GOOD Advice for a Change

Try it. It’s not complicated and it might save a few Xboxes from getting chucked off of balconies. There are all kinds of stupid implications just in those 90 words of “advice,” so let’s hit the highlights real fast and explain how Jake turned what might have been valuable commentary into stereotype, poor advice, and managed to get flamed.

  1. Video games are a “boy” thing. They’re not. I did 0.2 seconds of searching and saw that even Forbes knows better and they’re a bunch of stuffy business/economists. I’m not saying you should tell your readers to change who they are for their significant other, but why not point out that there are a lot of non-FPS / football games that the both of you might enjoy? Child of Eden, Rock Band and Portal 2 come to mind pretty quickly.
  2. If he’s ignoring you, it’s an addiction. We already kind of covered that, but let’s go a little deeper. It’s not a “video game” problem, it’s either an “asshole” problem or a communication problem. In other words, it may be that the gamer is an asshole who’s either too selfish to put his wants on hold or, as the movie & book title go, He’s Just Not That Into You. The other possibility here, and this is where you really screwed up, is that the offended party hasn’t bothered to say, “Hey, honey? It kind of drives me crazy when you totally ignore me in favor of your games. I’m not trying to tell you I hate gaming [unless you do, in which case you’re an idiot for dating a gamer and trying to change them], but it does kind of hurt my feelings when we’ve got time to spend together/stuff to do/I need help around the house and you blow me off.” I haven’t been married that long, but I do know I really appreciate it when my wife tells me straight up that I’m doing something that drives her crazy before it actually drives her crazy so we can avoid the whole “Blow-out Fight Out of Nowhere.”
  3. Having all three current consoles is a warning sign. It definitely depends on where your reader is in their relationship, but having a Wii, a PS3 and an Xbox 360 isn’t a warning sign of “gaming addiction” any more than having 4 bookshelves full of books is a sign of “book addiction.” It’s not even a red flag unless the behavior shows up, and that’s not the console’s fault (see above).
couple snuggling not addicted to video games advice column

That right there? Better than a marathon session of Mass Effect 3.

It’s hard to pack too much vitriol into this, Jake, because I think you did include some good test-the-water advice from a professional. On the other hand, next time you decide to give “advice,” why don’t you consider addressing the actual problem in a majority of your readers’ situations (a lack of communication, he’s just not that into you) rather than injecting some buzzwords that take the blame off of the actual people’s behavior.



P.S. – If you were going for “the game that more dudes play than anything else that is not even remotely enjoyable to watch,” you probably should have picked Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 or Battlefield 3.

P.P.S. – If you’re going for a game where there are actually lots of addiction issues, try World of Warcraft

Mail This – Being motivated enough to write a letter is one thing, but being motivated to write a fake letter is an entirely different matter. Someone in the gaming industry needs to hear about this.


YTruly’s Flickr (image)
Wikipedia (image)
Giant Bomb
Kuss, D.J. & Griffths, M.D. (2011). Addiction to social networks on the internet: A literature review of empirical research. International Journal of Environment and Public Health, 8, 3528-3552. (